Friday, September 15, 2017

Trump's Biographer: Who Will Answer the Call?

This article (below), which actually provoked some sympathy from me for Jeff Sessions (no mean feat), also provoked a larger reflection. Who will be Trump's biographer? Who will provide an account of this incoherent man and our times? 

Two names jump to mind, but I have to assume they're not available: Robert Caro and Garry Wills. Caro wrote highly acclaimed The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York about Trump's fellow New Yorker, and of course he's written the magnificent multi-volume work The Years of Lyndon Johnson. But he's still working on the final volume (go, Robert, go!), and he's not so young. Wills is the author of terrific books about Nixon, the Kennedys, and Reagan, as well as John Wayne, Washington, Lincoln, Madison, Henry Adams, and St. Augustine. His work always provides deep insights. His classics background and (presumably) a knowledge of Suetonius (The Lives of the Twelve Caesars) could prove a useful referent. But, Wills, too, is not so young and he's now got a book about the Koran due out this fall. Clearly, Trump, told well, would prove a HUGE undertaking. We need someone who can take up this mantle. 

So who? This is a call for nominees: who has the insight into contemporary politics, the ability to doggedly pursue the story of a man that won't provide a pleasant journey and almost certainly won't have a happy ending. This biographer will also need mastery of psychology without psychobabble and exceptional literary skill.

Nominations, please.

President Trump’s dressing down of his attorney general at a meeting in May was the beginning of a tumultuous summer for the two men.
NYTIMES.COM

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Twenty Years’ Crisis, 1919-1939 by E.H. Carr

E.H. Carr. Looks the part, doesn't he? 
Foundational text in IR & realist thought




















This book was published in September 1939 as Britain was going to war with Germany over the invasion of Poland. The book, despite new editions and having remained in print since that time, makes few concessions to changed views or ideas. Thus, as a history, it’s a first draft, but it's best remembered as a foundational text of what was to become the academic study of international relations. Carr, after having spent around 20 years in the British Foreign Office, accepted an academic post in Wales, where he was working at the time of the publication of the book. The book serves as an outstanding introduction to international relations because whatever its shortcomings as history, it’s a brilliant exposition of the issues of international relations (IR), especially from the realist point-of-view.


Carr is a proponent of the realist view as opposed to what he termed the “utopian” view. In short, he attributed to the utopians the belief that treaties, tribunals, and public opinion would overrule the forces of “power” that create wars. This was the age, following the First World War, when the League of Nations was created and the Kellogg-Brian treaty (1928) that sought to outlaw war as a means of state action. As you know, neither of these worked well for long. Instead, following a long history of realist thought, Carr notes that the struggle for power marked relations between nations during this period, and unlike the situation within nation-states, where governments and laws held sway, relations between nations was one of relative anarchy marked by the use (or threat) of force.


Carr’s arguments and prose are concise and pithy. He understands the crucial differences between and the relation of politics and law. He also concedes the role of morality (however defined) in decision-making, and its effect on public opinion, which while not controlling, is a matter of concern to each government. In short, while a realist, he shows himself a realist who understands that power is more than simply the ability to deploy military force and win wars. He also understands that nations vie for status and power in many ways and that something often guides them other than a cold, hard rationality.


While I consider myself a realist in matters of international relations, I appreciate that other perspectives (liberal internationalism, constructivism, and so on) all have their value and provide insights into this complex field. For someone new to the field, I recommend Carr’s work as an introduction from the realist perspective; i.e., the ability of each state to exert power—primarily by the threat or use of force—is the most reliable guide to understanding the interactions between states. But Carr isn’t blind to other perspectives, either, which serves to enhance the value of his book.



For anyone seeking entry into the field of international relations, I can recommend this book. (I know it's assigned in graduate courses in IR.) Also, this re-issued edition with a preface by Michael Cox provides a wealth of background information about the book and Professor Carr, making it an especially useful edition.  

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Collingwood: "Man Goes Mad", with comments, Pt. 12

I call upon John Lukacs where I think Collingwood has left a void.
 Collingwood:
The love of our country, therefore, its hills and valleys, rivers and fields and woods, is not an aesthetic enjoyment of the ‘beauties of nature’. Indeed, our country as it stands is not a product of nature; it is a garden kept and dressed by generations of men, whose whole character and aspect have been moulded by their labour. Nor is it a patriotic pride in our nation’s history as written upon the face of the earth; it is something far deeper and more primitive than that, something into which national pride and national rivalries do not enter. It is an experience neither aesthetic nor political, but in the deepest sense religious.

            It may be called the worship of our land as terra mater, Demeter, our divine mother; it may be called the love of the land God has given us for our home; whatever it is called, it is a thing of religion, our share in the primitive religion of the earth-goddess and the corn-god, the religion of all agricultural civilizations. And upon the vitality of this religious feeling depends the vitality of our civilization as a whole.

. . . .

            Many crimes have been laid at the foot of the Industrial Revolution, but in a direct and immediate sense the ruin of the English countryside cannot be included among them. The scarring of its surface with mines and the building of mills were not in themselves fatal to it. Both mine and mill have a dignity of their own, not wholly discordant with the spirit of the country to which, after all, they belong no less intimately than barn and dovecote and oast-house. But nevertheless, our present outrages can trace their pedigree back to the beginnings of the machine age.

From here, Collingwood catalogs the economic decline of the countryside and its conversion into a virtual museum piece and space for new housing tracts. His complaint is not aesthetic, or so he claims, but it's clearly one in which aesthetics plays a prominent role. He concludes the entire essay with these words: 

Instinctively, we turn to the country when we seek for a renewal of emotional power, as Antaeus in the fable derived fresh strength from touching the earth: in walking and camping and fields sports we try not so much to exercise our bodies as to refresh our minds. But these are only drugs for a jaded civilization. The earth whose contact would heal us is no mere playing-field. It is the fruitful, life-giving soil from which in the sweat of our brow we win our bread: not a weekly cheque to be exchanged for bread, but consciously nourishes itself from roots in agriculture, is well. Cut off from those roots, it is a kind of madness which may endure for a time im a fervish and restless consciousness, but can have no lasting vitality. Of this we are beginning to be aware; we know that our civilization has in it a sickness of the mind, a morbid craving for excitement, a hyperaesthesisa of emotion, for which it offers no cure. There is a cure, if only we could get it: the deep primitive, almost unconcious emotion of the man who, wresting with the earth, sees the labour of his hands and is satisfied. 
I must admit the Collingwood's conclusion flummoxes me. I accept his paean for the land, and I, too, believe that our land, this earth, is now our garden. But Collingwood fails to link this intuition about the value of the land with the rise of illiberalism. England was at this time, along with the U.S., the most advanced industrialized nation in the world. It has certainly been industrialized for the longest time. So why did places like Germany, Spain, Italy, Russia, and Romania, opt for fascist or militarist regimes when they were much more tied to the land by a greater number of people linked to the land? If spoliation of the countryside and a concentration of the population in the cities should create the most and most significant (negative) emotional reactions--sicknesses--then why was England perhaps the sanest nation in Europe during this time? 

Also, how realistic is Collingwood here? This man was an academic, who certainly loved the outdoors. He was an accomplished sailor and did a great deal of archeological fieldwork. But he was not a farmer! Nor can or should we all be farmers (unless things really go to hell). He was a man of Oxford and London, not of the far reaches of the countryside. How is civilization to function? To wit, no cities, no civilization. 

Indeed, if Collingwood hadn't here (and elsewhere) written so eloquently about liberalism, one might find a hint of Blut und Boden (blood and soil) in this musings in this last section. As it is, Collingwood, in the first quoted paragraph, despite his dismissal of the feeling as one of patriotism, seems to be very close to the understanding of patriotism offered by John Lukacs. Lukac's patriotism contrasts with virulent nationalism, and it's a distinction that I believe Collingwood could have endorsed. Lukacs describes the difference: 

Patriotism is defensive; nationalism is aggressive. Patriotism is the love of a particular land, with its particular traditions; nationalism is the love of something less tangible, of the myth of a “people”, justifying many things, a political and ideological substitute for religion. Patriotism is old-fashioned (and, at time and in some places, aristocratic); nationalism is modern and populist. In one sense patriotic and national consciousness may be similar; but in anther sense, more and more apparent after 1870, national consciousness began to affect more and more people who, generally, had been immune to that before—as, for example, many people within the multinational empire of Austria-Hungary. It went deeper than class consciousness. Here and there it superseded religious affiliations, too.
John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism: Fear & Hatred (2005), 36.

I'd expected Collingwood to explore more deeply down a similar path and to tie-in this change in popular feeling that Lukacs identifies. As he left it---and remember, Collingwood did not publish this article--it lacks a satisfactory conclusion, one that ties together his concluding observations, which in the end are left standing alone. Perhaps he realized this, too. 

I'll be reading more Collingwood, including Essays in Political Philosophy and re-reading this The New Leviathan to try to fill in this gap. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with comments Pt. 11

The gorgeous English countryside; but now we must be grounded in place and planet

At this point in the essay, which Collingwood labeled as Part Three, the argument takes an unexpected turn into humankind's deepest roots and the (relatively) recent history of liberalism. 

At bottom, European civilization, with all its offshoots in America and elsewhere, is an agricultural civilization.
            As a matter of economics, this is a commonplace. Everyone knows that . . . our daily meals come from the soil; and that, if eating is the basis of life, agriculture is the basis of our civilization.
 A civilization, in order to be real, must have, as we might say, three dimensions. It must have complexity, or an elaborate system of responses to various situations, such as the need for nourishment, the need for human intimacies, the need for protection against enemies. It must have continuity, or identify with itself in its own past: each element in its structure must have grown out of something that was previously there. And it must have vitality: those to whom it belongs must believe in it, and refuse to part with it except in exchange for some new civilization which they can recognize as its legitimate continuation and heir.
            To these three dimensions of civilization correspond three dimensions of mental life. Its complexity is a function of intelligence, the wit or skill by which man, like other animals, invents his responses to new situations. Its continuity is a function of memory, the self-conscious knowledge of one’s own present as the outgrowth of one’s past. Its vitality is a function of emotion. If any of these failed, civilization would perish.

. . . .
 The question I am raising in this chapter is whether these emotions are in health or not. Of course, our civilization is not merely agricultural; it is much else besides; it is commercial, industrial, scientific, and so forth; and in order that we should possess it in its fullness we must feel strongly concerning all these developments of it. But that from which we have developed is not something past and dead, which we can now afford to ignore; it is the living root on whose life their life depends; and to care for them, a without any longer caring for it, would be like caring for our furniture and clothes while easing to care for our own bodies, or caring for victory in a scientific debate without caring for the truth. 


  1. Collingwood grew-up in the Lake District, not far from John Ruskin. Collingwood's father was a disciple of Ruskin's, and Collingwood was deeply steeped in that tradition and that of the ancient English countryside. In short, Collingwood's feel for the land and its ancient history was not gained through books; expanded and expressed by books, but known first at an experiential level. 
  2. Although not recounted in the quotes above, Collingwood notes some of the changes wrought by modernity; for instance, how beginning in the seventeenth century, Europeans began turning their primary interest from God to Nature, and the natural sciences that could help tame Nature. Of course, commerce and industry also grew more prominent. 
  3. Although he does not state it expressly (at least thus far in his essay), Collingwood seems to be adopting the perspective of those who identify a certain rootlessness and disconnection in modern life, with its cities and the increasingly hidden rhythms of Nature and an agricultural world. 
  4. As someone who advocates for "the garden" as a fundamental metaphor by which we should continue to live, I'm very sympathetic of Collingwood's train of thought here. Indeed, we're realizing more and more of the damage that human actions have done to "this best garden" in which we live. In Shakespeare's Henry V, the cardinal decries the spoiling of this "best garden" France by war and plunder. But now we realize (or should realize) that this "best garden" is no longer limited a certain nation or locale, but it is our entire Planet Earth. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with comments, Pt. 10

To what extent is Collingwood's understanding of (liberal) politics and illiberal politics consistent with that offered by Hannah Arendt? I think I discern some distinct similarities. 


In this post, we pick up from the point of Collingwood's question: "If the abandonment of all attempt to live by liberal principles is madness, why has this madness come upon us?




Liberalism, during the time of its growth and greatness, entirely transformed the inner political life of those countries where it took root. But it never applied itself seriously to the task of reforming their international relations. . . . What change there had been [in international relations], was for the worse: weapons more destructive, war more expensive, and national hatred (a thing hardly known in the seventeenth century) smouldering everywhere. The liberal state of the nineteenth century conceived itself as an individual among individuals, in that false essence of individuality which makes it synonymous  with mutual exclusiveness, and denies that between one individual and another there may be organic relations such that the welfare of each is necessary to that of the other. The liberal government which ‘trusted the people’ hated and feared peoples other than its own. It was this unnatural union of internal liberalism and external liberalism that led by way of international anarchy to the militarism of today. 
            If liberalism failed to affect international relations, it failed also in certain ways to affect the inner life of communities. A division was made, both in practice and in theoretical writings, between the public affairs of the community as a whole and the private affairs of its members. It was held that, whereas a man’s political opinions were of interest to the government, whose business it was to elicit them for its own guidance, his private actions, so long as he did nothing illegal, were his own concern. In practice this meant that his life as a ‘business’ man was under no kind of control by the state, so that the economic life of the community was an anarchy as complete as international politics, This was tolerable in theory only because of the extraordinary doctrine, learned from Adam Smith, that free pursuit of individual interest best served the interest of all; in practice it was soon found wholly intolerable, and the misery of the weaker, to which it gave rise, was the course of modern socialism. The militarism and the revolutionary socialism which threaten to destroy civilization today are a just punishment for its crimes in the years of its greatness. They spring, not from weakness or falsity in the principles of liberalism itself, but from the failure of our grandfathers to put those principles consistently into practice. Where these attacks show symptoms of insanity is the fact that they are directed, not against the incomplete application of liberal principles, but against those principles themselves. For three hundred years, civilized man has been working out a liberal system of political method, applying it, bit by bit, to the various parts of his corporate life. Now, because the application has not proved exhaustive, because  there are still some regions unreclaimed by this method, it seems that man has decided no longer to use it, but to throw it away as an ill-tempered child throws away a toy, to give up the attempt at living a political life, and to live in future the life of a gunman, the life of violence and lawlessness, the life which Hobbes, thinking he described the remote past only, and not he future, called solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
My comments: 

  1. To what extent do Collingwood's remarks anticipate the argument of Hannah Arendt in her The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) that European 'imperialism' in the late nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries contributed to the rise of totalitarianism? 
  2. Is Collingwood too utopian here in complaining about the failure of liberal institutions to develop between nation-states? He'd surely noticed the failure of the League of Nations (and the success of the later United Nations is sketchy at best). Compare Collingwood's analysis to that of his contemporary (and fellow philosopher of history), E.H. Carr writing in The Twenty Years' Crisis: 1919–1939: An Introduction to the Study of International Relations (September 1939): Carr writes a manifesto of contemporary realism in the field of international relations that pooh-poohs international  institutions (for the most part) and debunks a good deal of what he argues (persuasively) were utopian projects always on the very of annihilation by power politics. I don't think Collingwood was naive, but I'm not sure how his alternative course of achieving a genuinely liberal regime in international relations would have succeeded. (In some measure, though, current problems notwithstanding, the EU seems to provide a model that Collingwood might endorse.)
  3. I think that Collingwood, like almost everyone else who's addressed the topic, has mistakenly attributed a faith in markets to Adam Smith that he never held. Smith's "invisible hand" was a metaphor he used only in passing in this Wealth of Nations, and his earlier (but underappreciated) Theory of Moral Sentiments says a great deal about the cultural foundations upon which capitalism could be laid. Smith was not a free market ideologue of the type that we find today. 
  4. Certainly, in the U.S. we see Collingwood's prediction coming true: the gunman is taking over. Note the images from Charlottesville. Guns represent violence and coercion, the opposite of politics, reason, and dialectic (dialogue). Collingwood, I argue, tracks Arendt very closely in the analysis of politics as the opposite of violence and coercion--at least politics as understood in a liberal (democratic) polity. 

  


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with comments, Pt. 9

Marxism: “carrying too much dead weight in the shape of relics from the age in which it was born”
Here we further explore Collingwood's critique of Marxist socialism, which seeks liberal ends by illiberal means.
[I]t is a dangerous matter to surrender principles for the sake of expediency. Only in so far as a people has no liberalism in its bones, can a dictatorship flourish in it for however short a time; and every day of that time means a further weakening of all liberal principle throughout the body politic. [Collingwood here goes on to discuss Russia and contrast it the England [sic], France, and the U.S.] 
. . . . 
[Collingwood critiques Marxism as “carrying too much dead weight in the shape of relics from the age in which it was born,” and he identifies these (intellectual) relics.] 
            All these ideas [such as enlightened despotism, the need for crisis and revolution expressed in war, and “class war as the glorious consummation of political activity”] are obsolete: they have been exploded once for all by that very liberalism against which they are now used as weapons. Enlightened despotism as a political ideal has yielded to the conception of a people governing itself by a dialectic of political opinion. The dualism between a time of troubles and a millennium lying beyond it has yielded to the conception of conflict as a necessary element of all life and (as yet) not destroying its peace. The conception of war as at once glorious in itself and necessary to the achievement of human ends has yielded to the conception of war as something anti-political and, so far as it is merely war, merely evil. In all these three ways socialism, in spite of its affiliation to Hegel’s dialectic, shows itself radically un-dialectical, and it is liberalism that has proved the true heir of the dialectical method. 
            If the abandonment of all attempt to live by liberal principles is madness, why has this madness come upon us? . . . Nothing is gained by blame: something perhaps, by trying to understand. [325]
What I find most intriguing about this set of quotes is the passing remark that Collingwood makes when he writes that "conflict as a necessary element of all life and (as yet) not destroying its peace." Why did he say "as yet"? What worm in the bud may he have been thinking about? I have to suspect that given his deep knowledge of classical sources that he had in mind that democracies and republics have a history of instability. This is something that deeply concerned the American Founders as they drafted and argued in favor of the Constitution. This is what Francis Fukuyama wrote about in his Political Order and Political Decay ((his Pollyannish reputation--unfairly gained--notwithstanding). Peter Turchin and William Ophuls have also addressed this issue; in fact, it's not just democracies and republics that face this challenge of what I think might fairly be termed 'political entropy.' The challenge becomes, can a nation talk its way out of decay? I think so--but it's extremely difficult, at best, and some violence always erupts. Along with Peter Turchin, I believe we are in such a time now in the U.S. Perhaps the alarm among elites will be strong enough to rectify our current state of affairs, but this hope must balance against the anxiety and disharmony that have brought us to this state and the temptation to impose a new order from above. 

Monday, September 4, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with comments, Pt. 8

Twins: hatred of liberalism, desire for war, leaders of totalitarian regimes, slayers of millions. It seems likely that Collingwood thought of both as he wrote "Man Goes Mad"


In the preceding post, Collingwood addressed the attack on liberalism
emanating from the right, in this post, we'll start his assessment of the attack on liberalism from the left.

The other attack on liberalism, from the left, complains in effect that liberalism, as it has actually existed, is not genuinely liberal at all, but hypocritically preaches what it does not practice. Behind a fa├žade of liberal principles, the reality of political life has been a predatory system by which capitalists have plundered wage-earners. What is proudly described as the free contract of labour is a forced sale in which the vendor accepts a starvation wage; what is called the free expression of political opinion is a squabble between various sections of the exploiter class, which conspire to silence the exploited. Within the existing political system, therefore, the exploited class can hope for no redress. Its only remedy is to make open war on its oppressors, take political power into its own hands, establish a dictatorship of the proletariat as an emergency measure, and so bring about the existence of a classless society. 
            In one sense this programme is not an attack on liberalism but a vindication of it. The principles on which it is based are those of liberalism itself; and in so far as its analysis of historical fact is correct, it must carry conviction to anyone who is genuinely liberal in principle and not merely a partisan of the outward forms in which past liberalism has expressessed itself. The correctness of this analysis has been demonstrated by the sequel. The attack on liberalism from the right has actually been the reaction of privileged classes to this challenge from the left. 
. . . . 
But the socialist programme as I have stated it, though liberal in principle, is anti-liberal in method. Its method is that of the class-war and the dictatorship. Class-war is war, and the time is past when war could be waged as a predatory measure, in order to seize property or power held by another. That is the old conception of war, which, as we saw [earlier in this essay], no longer applies to the conditions of the modern world. Therefore, war means not the transference of property from the vanquished to the victor, but its destruction; not the seizure of political power, but the disintegrations of the social structure on whose soundness the very existence of political power depends.
[Collingwood next returns to his discussion of the inevitability of political conflict (contra Marx’s vision of political life after the revolution)]
Healthy political life, like all life, is conflict: but this conflict is political so long as it is dialectical, that is, carried on by the parties which desire to find an agreement beyond or behind their differences. War is non-dialectical: a belligerent desires not to agree with his enemy but to silence him. A class-conflict within the limits of a liberal political system is dialectical: one carried on in the shape of class-war is non-dialectical. The ordinary socialist conception of class-war is equivocal, slipping unawares from one of these meanings to the other.  

In this selection of quotes, Collingwood identifies the common bond in between the extreme Right and extreme Left in their critique of liberalism: their desire for war. For the Right, at least in Collingwood's time race war was the paramount rationale, although nationalism and religion could also be called into play. (Religion, perhaps even more than race, now seems to be the rallying cry for the extreme Right.) The Left prefers to pursue class warfare, although in its extreme contemporary manifestations, I'm not sure who that would play-out since a Marxian industrial proletariat doesn't exist in the West and the extreme Right in the U.S. has captured the allegiance of many wage-earners and the economically marginalized


A repeating a common theme of Collingwood's, and one that I'll repeat: war, whether cheered-on by the Right or by the Left, is the enemy of liberalism. As it's been said, free speech is always the first casualty of war. And it's not only speech that suffers the consequence.

The mutual admiration--indeed, demand--for war is a shared characteristic of the extreme Right and extreme Left. This demonstrates the limits of attempting to parse the array of political perspectives on a binary Left-Right choice.

Collingwood identifies why the extreme Left (socialists and Marxists) have shared some affinities. There are shared values in desiring to bring a wider, more inclusive set of groups, values, and individuals into society and political life. The chief difference becomes one of timing and cost. For the extreme Left change must come now even at the price of war (socially destructive civil war). Mainstream liberals--those who value constitutional government, the rule of law, and peace--won't pay the price of war and do not have to look beyond the last century to see the millions and millions of lives sacrificed needlessly for an ideal that was never close to attainment.

Also, by "mainstream liberals" I include traditional Republicans in the U.S., although their numbers are dwindling. This would be the same for Conservatives in GB or most continental conservatives. (The great divide in liberalism is between those who emphasize laissez-faire economics and want to limit government--with markets as the preferred mode of decision-making--and liberals who use government as a tool and prefer political decision-making over market-based decisions.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 7

Contains "Man Goes Mad:" not enchanting but enlightening

In part 7, we review what Collingwood writes about the attack on liberalism from "the right." The numbers in brackets and bold refer to my numbered notes following the quote. 

At the present time, liberalism is undergoing an attack from two sides at once, by two opposite parties and for two opposite reasons. [1][2] First, there is the attack from the right. Here the complaint is that liberalism talks instead of acting. [3] Instead of taking up definite problems and fitting them with definite solutions, it spends time collecting opinions about them. What is lacks is efficiency. The remedy is to suppress parties, parliament, and all apparatus of a political dialectic, and entrust the work of government to an expert, exempt from criticism and endowed with power to command, who shall invent his own solutions for all problems as they arise and impose them upon an obedient community. [4] 
            The ground on which this doctrine rests betrays a genuine and absolute opposition to liberalism. The situations is represented as one of emergency. In emergencies, the method of liberalism is no longer valid. But what we are considering here is no temporary suspension of habeas corpus and the freedom of the press, it is a permanent declaration of a state of emergency. [5] Naturally, this form of government is adopted most thoroughly in militaristic countries.


  1. Collingwood uses the division of political perspectives that has been with us since the French Revolution, that of 'left' and 'right.' For reasons I've set forth elsewhere and that I hope will become apparent later in these comments, I think this framework is outdated and that we should map political opinions in a more multi-dimensional schema. Nonetheless, this division that Collingwood uses is still with us over 80 years later, so it certainly has some staying power. 
  2. Collingwood writes of "two opposite reasons" (between left and right for opposing liberalism (i.e., constitutional democracy), but much of what he writes here can apply to the left in power as well as the right. 
  3. As I alluded to in Part 6, Collingwood is promoting his idea of "dialectical politics" closely tracks with Hannah Arendt's equation of politics with speech. And this complaint about democracy (liberalism) is an old one indeed, and one that Collingwood agrees carries some validity. Liberalism, as he's written, does not do well in times of war. I should note that the same is said of the legal system, with its systematic procedures, hearings, trials, and appeals. Both democracy (liberalism) and the rule of law seek to avoid and resolve conflicts by speech. (Indeed, speech in these situations is a type of speech act, but more on that some other time.) And just as democracy has those who would circumvent it (actually, destroy it) because of an "emergency," so the law must fend off vigilantes who want to take justice into their own hands, the lynch mob. 
  4. In talking about "experts" and a command and control government, Collingwood is describing the experience of Communist governments as well as fascist and authoritarians governments. The Soviet Union was the only Communist regime in power in 1936, and it clearly displayed this command and control mentality; to wit, the party via its various apparatchiks (on up to Stalin) knew what was best for "the people." Experts knew best when imposing plans from above, whether building dams and factories or sending people to the Gulag or starving a part of the population. The Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were twins in many ways, and certainly not the least in this manner. 
  5. Reading this, one can understand better President Trump's "American carnage" inaugural and his fantasies about crime, Moslems, illegal immigrants, and foreign powers like North Korea and Iran. All of his images cry out with a message of fear, and thus to create a sense of emergency. His ineptitude passing legislation in Congress bespeaks his lack of mastery of dialectical politics, his inability to master the labyrinth of compromise that marks a successful politician in a democratic, constitutional regime with a separation of powers. 
In Part 8, we'll examine Collingwood's ideas about the attack on liberalism from the left, the need to end liberalism to establish true liberalism. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 6

Collingwood in the 1930s
The plainest political fact of our times is the widespread collapse of what I shall call, using the word in its Continental sense, liberalism. [1]The essence of this conception is, or was, the idea of a community as governing itself by fostering the free expression of all political opinions that take shape within it, and finding some means of reducing this multiplicity of opinions to a unity. How this is the to be effected, is a secondary matter. [2] [The bracketed numbers refer to the comments numbered at the end of the Collingwood quotes.]
. . . . 

The one essential of liberalism is the dialectical solution of all political problems: that is their solution through the statement of opposing views and their free discussion until, beneath this opposition, their supporters have discovered some common ground on which to act. [3]            The outward characteristic of all liberalism is the fact that it permits the free expression of opinion, no matter what the opinion may be, on all political questions. This attitude is not toleration; it is not the acquiescence in an evil whose suppression would be a greater evil; it is not a mere permission but an active fostering of free speech, as the basis of all healthy political life. 
. . . . 

            There are certain conditions under which alone liberalism can flourish. It is not the best method of government for a people at war or in a state of emergency: for then silence and discipline are demanded of the subject, bold and resolute command of the ruler. It is not the best method for a people internally rotten with crime and violence: there, a strong executive is the first thing needed; force must be met by force. Therese restrictions, however, do not amount to criticisms of liberalism on its own ground. It professes to be a political method, that is, a method by which a community desiring a solution for its own political problems can find one. War is not a part of politics, but the negation of politics, a parasitic growth upon political life. [4]

. . . . 

Liberalism, then, requires for its success only one condition: namely that the civilization which adopts it shall as a whole and on the whole be resolved to live in peace and not at war, by honest labour and not by crime. [For, when it invites the free expression of all political views, it assumes that those who accept the invitation will use it as an opportunity for expressing political views, not as an opportunity for acts of violence.] [5]It might seem, therefore, that liberalism is a mere utopianism, based on a blindly optimistic view of human nature. But this is not the case. A liberal government is still a government, and like every government must enforce law and suppress crime. Because it set out of hear every political opinion, it is not committed to the dogma that every human being under its rule has such opinions. [318-320]


  1. This "continental" liberalism may also be called "classical liberalism." It is the liberalism that American political scientist Louis Hartz (The Liberal Tradition in America) believed underlay the entire American political landscape. Until recently, the Republican and Democrat parties were essentially two different branches of this one stream. Both were committed to the essential institutions of liberal democracy. Of course, the take-over (how hostile and unwanted I'm not so sure) of the Republican Party by Trumpism, this no longer is true. We now have a fundamentally anti-liberal party in power, although it can be very liberal with the plutocratic interests who fund its congressional wing. 
  2. Note the use of the term "community" here. One of the great conundrums of the Founders addressed in The Federalist Papers, and by Madison, in particular, is the extent to which a far-flung nation of great diversity can foster a sufficient community to make a republic work for the new nation. To what extent can we as a nation, when "bowling alone," maintain the necessary coherence of perspectives, interests, and aspirations to keep a functional political community. I'd argue (I think Collingwood might follow me here) is that without a sense of community, you cannot maintain a democracy. By the very nature of the growth of our nation: in geography, population, economics, size of government, and so on, we lose some measure of community. But even with all of these centrifugal forces, Americans have still found periods of intense political community, even at the national level. (Community is more easily visible at the local level, as we see with any trauma to a community.) 
  3. This implies that "common ground" can always be found, but this is not always so. But even in cases of disagreement, a losing party may still share common ground by recognizing the legitimacy of the procedures and abiding by the decision; i.e., by "playing by the rules." When this stops--and it's become increasingly problematic at the Congressional level. Congressional and legislative Republicans have moved the goalposts by gerrymandering, refusing the act on presidential appointments, and even by ending the filibuster.  (Ending the filibuster isn't such a bad thing in my book, but it's a change in the rule motivated by temporary partisan advantage, not an aim to make the process more democratic.)
  4. The flip side of this observation might be included in the dictator's handbook about how to end democracy. As Madison observed long ago, and as I've been preaching for a long time now, war and democracy don't mix. War will strangle democracy. The concluding sentence of this paragraph (in italics) foreshadows the arguments of Collingwood's younger contemporary, Hannah Arendt. Arendt argues that the essence of politics is speech (Collingwood's "discussion"?), and that contra Mao, political power doesn't emanate from the barrel of a gun; only force comes from there. War, then, is the antithesis of democracy. Instead, political power comes from the use of speech to persuade citizens to pursue a common course of action: 
"Power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert. Power is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together. When we say of somebody that he is "in power" we actually refer to his being empowered by a certain number of people to act in their name." 
Arendt, On Violence (1970, p. 44), quoted in Habermas, "Hannah Arendt's Communications Concept of Power, Social Research (1977).
5.  This bracketed sentence was deleted from Collingwood's manuscript, and the editors don't know why. But I decided to insert it because I agree with what he says in that sentence, and in light of the events in Charlottesville and elsewhere, we need to consider what limits upon free speech and expression--if any--we should impose. I'm of the classical liberal bent such that I'd let go anything short of violence, even though I find a sentiment abhorrent. But I'm not sure that this is the best course, and we'd all better consider what alternatives we want to pursue.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 5

All of these doctrines [which argue, following Hegel, that because conflict between states is inevitable, the ‘moral health’ of the state requires war], taken in their practical sense as exhortations to the pursuit of war as something intrinsically valuable, are sophistical. All alike are based on confusing the general notion of conflict or struggle with that special kind of conflict or struggle which is property called by the name of war. It is certainly true that there can be no life or spiritual life (moral or economic or political), without a constant overcoming of obstacles; and that these obstacle very often exist through the actions of other living beings, pursing in their own way ends similar to one’ own. In that case the overcoming of difficulties becomes a victory over opponents. But there are many kinds of victory, beside that wince is won by means of bullets and bayonets and poison gas; and a philosophical demonstration of the necessity of conflict for life itself has no bearing on the necessity of conflict waged by those peculiar means. 
            Confusions like this do not happen without a cause. The underlying motive of this confusion is the recognition of a hard fact, whose reality cannot be cancelled by removing the confusion of thought: the fact that war has got out of hand and, from being an instrument of policy, has become what psychologists call a compulsion, something that we do blindly and madly. Why has this happened? Not merely because science has put into our hands engines of destruction, which we cannot prevent ourselves from using, though that is true; but, at bottom, as Hegel saw, because of our political system, with its double insistence on the individuality and sovereignty of the state. Militarism is sovereignty conceived in terms of individuality: the absolute and unlimited power of the state in all that affects its own concerns, combined with its merely external relation to all other states. 
            This conception of the state is not new. What is new is the power which modern science has given to us of working out its implications in practice.  . . . [W]e have brought ourselves to the position I have tried to describe: the position of a civilization able scientifically to destroy itself, and unable to hold its hand from doing so. [316-317] 
. . . . 
            The only remedy is to revise our conception of the state. Any proposal for such revision will at once encounter the objection that the root of war is a combative instinct inherent in human nature. This, once more, is sophistry. Conflict, I repeat, is a condition of all life: but conflict and war are not the same thing, and the combative instinct, if there is such an instinct, no more entails the national use of battleships and bombing aeroplanes than it entails the private use of rapiers and daggers on the street. We must turn, then, from the consideration 0f modern war to the consideration of modern politics. [[316-317]

Comments: 

  1. The glorification of the State was one of Hegel's more unfortunate legacies. This train of thought becomes quite apparent in twentieth-century fascism. It is exacerbated by the increased potency of warfare, and therefore the increased threat to one state by another (and now non-state actors pose an increasing threat). We enter into a perpetual arms race to keep the state intact to pursue the arms race, and so on ad infinitum. Arms control treaties put some break on this tendency, but they been band-aid solutions an endemic problem. 
  2. Collingwood is correct that life entails conflict and struggle. Life, including that of any individual or state (or any other organization), is one long pas de deux between conformity with--and control of--the environment, and the environment includes powers intentional (such as the Other) and impersonal (such as hurricanes). But unlike a ballet, the dancers are often at odds, not cooperating. (Cooperation is all too rare, yet it's the secret ingredient of every successful human endeavor.) 
  3. We observe the militarist attitude more often on the Right than on the Left, although both ends of the political spectrum can manifest this trait. Indeed, one may argue that militarism is native to the Right. The Right (and I mean the reactionary right, or what is now the 'alt-right') we may label the bastard child of the Enlightenment, while Left (which by this measure includes some self-labeled conservatives or traditional liberals) may be seen as the rightful heirs of the Enlightenment who can become infected with the taint of violence. (For instance, the Terror of the French Revolution: child of the Right or the Left, of Enlightenment or Reaction? (A great essay question for another time.) 
  4. In wide swaths of the U.S., we have now legalized weaponry on the street, to what practical end I know not, but perhaps this represents to the militarization of U.S. society. I'd rather we go with swords and daggers; nasty enough, but with more of a challenge and certainly less of a kill rate. But then the NRA wouldn't approve of such a scheme, and they call the tune in Congress. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 4

An image of the First World War


[A] suspicion arises that the holocaust of modern war is the safety-valve of an economic system where production, pursued as an end in itself and getting out of touch with consumption, has loaded the world with unwanted goods. But this cannot be the explanation [for modern war], for if these goods were unwanted, their destruction, like that of a target in gunnery practice, would not be an act of war. The militarist must value his children and his property, or the Moloch to whom he sacrifices them would not be appeased. The sacrifice is the self-torture of an insane civilization. [311] 
             Alike economically and politically, therefore, the militarism which is so deeply rooted in our modern political system is a form of insanity. To represent war as the ultimate and highest end of the state is to misconceive both the relation between war and wealth, and the relation between war and policy. [311-312] 
             Warfare, the organized warfare of states as distinct from mere personal violence, is not a primitive human institution. It was invented at relatively high stage of civilization, and was invented as a cheap and easy way of acquiring riches. [312] 
 To economic ends, political ends may be added: domination may be desired for its own sake, and wars of conquest, as distinct from wars of exploitation, may be fought. Or a war may be wages for religious motives, the glory of God, not the glory of man, being the prize. The destructiveness of economic or acquisitive warfare is limited by the need to make a profit out of it; hence, the conqueror is not willing to spend more than he is likely to get, nor is likely to bleed his victims to the point of exhaustion. . . Political warfare is crueler and more destructive: but even here a limit is set to its destructiveness by the fact that a conqueror would, in general, rather rule over a tolerably prosperous people than over a wilderness. [312-313] Religious warfare is the cruelest of all, because the issues at stake being purely spiritual there is no care for material welfare, or even for the life of the body: the very existence of infidels is unpleasing to God and their complete destruction is meritorious. Since the seventeenth century, all wars between civilized peoples have tended to be at bottom wars of religion, the cultural ideals for which people nowadays mostly profess to fight being in te nature of religious principles, however little they may associate themselves with deities and temples. Not only do they resemble religious wars in being fought for sprititual ideals, they resemble them in their absolute ruthlessness and in the fact that they recognize no limit to their destructiveness of life or property. Thus in their general character they resemble religious wars: but they differ from religious wars in that they set before themselves no definite aim, and therefore have no definite criterion of victory or defeat. [313] 
 
[I]n spite of the of the vaguely religious or quasi-religious character of modern warfare, it is not truly religious, for, so far from having a religious motive, it has no motive at all. It is notorious that in modern war there are no victors. The reason for this is now clear. In order that someone may win a war, the war must be about something: there must be aims on both sides, and a question to be settled by fighting. In modern war, there are no such conditions. There are, therefore, no victors and no vanquished: only combatants seared alike in the furnace they have conspired to light, all exhausted, though exhausted in varying degrees. [313-314]

Some points to ponder: 


  1. Collingwood wrote this having lived during the First World War, albeit working in the Admiralty and not serving at the front.  The First World War, of a century ago, was a cataclysmic event for Europe. It shattered a century of relative (Great Power) peace that has existed since the Napoleonic Wars. And in 1936, all aspirations not to the contrary, the prospect of war was again looming on the horizon. 
  2. Note that the U.S. is engaged in a "War on Terror," although we no longer use that nonsensical nomenclature. We are locked in a battle with a 'jihad' that makes no sense from an economic or political perspective. Thus, neither side can define victory (see Afghanistan) or place a limit on the nature and extent of the warfare. The U.S. resorted to torture, assassination, and indefinite incarceration in defiance of established Western norms, rationalizing these practices as necessary to succeed in the this (un)holy war. 
  3.  A point of curiosity for intellectual historians: Keynes published his General Theory in February 1936. Had Collingwood read it? Collingwood's reference to the problem of over-production certainly notes the problem a problem that the addressed. 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Collingwood's "Man Goes Mad" with commentary, Pt. 3

Some shared perspectives
War is the ultimate end of the modern state. All the forces that go to make up the modern state combine to drive its activity in the direction of warfare. On the other hand, war is readily becoming more and more destructive, and has now reached a point in its development where it cannot be waged at all, on any considerable scale, without involving the destruction of civilization over the entire field of conflict. . . .  [T]he traditional politics which in England is called democracy, and on the Continent liberalism, is here out of date. It thinks of war as an instrument which statesman are free to use or not to use in pursuit of their ends, whereas it is in reality a monster which, having invoked it, they not cannot exorcise. What began as a means to an end beyond itself has lost that character: it has become a thing that must be used, whatever comes of it. . . . Much of what has happened in militarist countries within the last few years suggests that in those countries what we call civilization is no longer valued. Freedom of thought and speech, personal liberty, and many other features of what we should call civilized life, have been deliberately repudiated with the avowed aim of rendering the nation a more docile and responsive fighting-machine. For the militarist, the incompatibility of civilization and war is only a nail in the coffin of civilization. The only corporate activity which he recognizes as desirable in a nation is warfare itself. [310]

"War is the ultimate end of the modern state." My first reaction is to consider this an overstatement. The modern state, in addition to its more traditional functions (law enforcement, provision of public goods) has added economic and social welfare to its portfolio. And, of course, the state has always been involved in defense of territory (and often it seeks the addition of territory). But in my life time (from near the beginning of the Cold War), the military function has grown remarkably in the U.S., whereas before WWII, the military had been surprisingly limited in its role. We Americans began to refer to the president as our "commander-in-chief," which he isn't unless we're members of the active duty military. All of this demonstrates the indisputable fact that war and democracy are inimical to one another. War will inevitably seek to strangle democracy as a threat to its powers. Democracy as an expression of the will of most people will seek to avoid war. (N.B. This last contention needs qualification. I believe that avoidance of war is a popular default position among non-elites; however, this default position of the demos is easily transposed into supporting war by propaganda appealing to nationalist or retaliatory sentiment.) 

In reviewing the latter part of the quote, I noted how Collingwood anticipates Orwell, who published 1984 in 1949, seven years after Collingwood's death and 13 years after Collingwood penned this essay. Recall Oceania's perpetual state of war with Eurasia and Eastasia, each mega-state controlled by an ideology that extols and supports war. 

Think also of Stephen Bannon and some of the thinkers whom he has favorably cited, such as the Italian fascist Julius Evola. These and other thinkers, for instance, Georges Sorel in fin de siecle France, argue that violence and war are a necessary tonic for peoples and nations. Indeed, WWI began with many on both sides of the fight believing that a war would alleviate the malaise felt in many parts of European society during the period leading up to the war. One would think such notions would have perished in the ashes and graveyards that the war created, and while this was true of many, a committed few concluded that an increase of dosage was required. Mussolini and Hitler are only the two most well known of that latter sort. I have not doubt that Collingwood was thinking of these two as he wrote this about the "militarists." And it's not difficult today to identify those who hold this militarist attitude. 

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Manifesto of a Moderate

Introductory note: I started this piece to make some comments on David Brooks's column "What Moderates Believe." (Link at the end, as well.) However, in the course of putting down my thoughts, this effort burgeoned into a (somewhat) independent piece that I now recognize as a manifesto of sorts. Also, as I indicate through my personal history, it allows me to reclaim a long-lost (or more accurately--discarded) mantle. I have for some time described myself as 'a conservative by temperament, a liberal by education, a pragmatist by experience, a radical in perspective, a realist in assessments, a believer in action, and an idealist in values' (and whatever else might strike me at the moment, although any interlocutor has long since lost interest). Perhaps I can now just say 'I'm a moderate.' 

I was a teenage moderate.
In fact, because my political apprenticeship began even before my teen years, I can say that I was a pre-teen moderate. You see, my parents were "moderate Republicans," a now extinct species now found only in history books. I began my political education early, following around my dad, who got mixed up in the great battle for the soul of the Republican Party that broke into the open in 1964. In that year, the radicals (ironically labeled "conservatives") began their takeover of the party in the person of Barry Goldwater. My dad worked on behalf of the moderate Republican, Gov. William Scranton of Pennsylvania, as a paid employee as well as a supporter. Of course, as you know, even though Goldwater failed miserably in the election, the radicals eventual took control of the party, and the moderates died out or left. I left.

I say all of this because in reading Dave Brooks's column, I realize that I'm still a moderate at heart (and in the head, too). Like Brooks, I initially recoiled at the term because 'moderate' can be seen as a synonym for indifferent or as one who will settle for simply splitting the difference. And anyone who knows me or comes across what I write about politics I hope will not conclude that I'm indifferent or merely want to split the difference about political issues. Despite his reticence about the term moderate, Brooks argues that the term still fits, and he goes on to describe what he sees as its attributes. He convinces me, and below I reflect further on his insights.

Brooks describes the opposite of moderates as "warriors." Back in the 60s, we referred to them as "extremists." Brooks also (rightly) labels them as "authoritarians." The concept is the same. Whether at the extremes of the political spectrum--right or left--or as they're displayed in adjoining locations on a circular diagram of political attitudes (my preference), these extremists are the ones who are spoiling for a fight. They may be radical populists (which demonstrates how right and left can meet at the extremes), fascists, or radical leftists. But under any configuration, they promote division, violence, disruption, and seek raw power (as in control). Along with Brooks, I say a pox on all their houses.

"Moderation is not an ideology; it’s a way of coping with the complexity of the world." And this is a key point--the world, including the socio-economic-political world, is complex. And 'complex' is not easy to define (hey, it's complex!). But a quick stab at a definition might be that it's a system in which there are few direct connections between the parts of a vast system. In other words, what we do 'here' has consequences that we may feel (unexpectedly) 'there.' Sometimes a hard push yields little or no immediate result and yet in another circumstance, the softest push can send the system spinning out of control. What this means in practice is that we humans will have a hard time predicting all of the consequences of our innumerable actions. We often discover emergent properties--the 'I never expected that' surprises, or in Donald Rumsfield's nomenclature, 'the unknown unknowns.' Brooks argues that this fundamental attribute of our political reality should lead us to the following values and principles.

"The truth is plural." In life, no one's right all of the time and no one is wrong all of the time (although some--like you know who--certainly push the edge of the envelope). Add to this the dynamics of changing circumstances--how we solved a problem yesterday may not work in the conditions of today--means we have to keep our options open. We have to be humble.

"Politics is a limited activity." In short, the world's problems will not be solved by politics; personal happiness will not come from politics alone. Politics, like life, can have its uplifting moments that raise our consciousness and provide us experiences of personal growth. But most of the time, it's like daily life, a matter of performing household chores and earning a buck. Not romantic or uplifting but necessary. Politics, in other words, is a humbling activity that may, if we're lucky, provide us with some glimpses of the promised land.

Likewise, government is neither a panacea nor a curse. It partakes of both humankind's fallen nature--our finitude--and it can express our highest aspirations, but neither attribute is realized perfectly or finally. Government, argues Brooks--and I agree--is best seen as a useful tool, not an end in itself, but a means that may be more or less effective in different situations. For instance, government may compete with the market as means of addressing a collective problem. The relative merits of each will vary according to circumstances.

"Creativity is syncretistic." Good ideas come from diverse sources. If you keep an open, inquiring mind, you might discover that the over side has some useful ideas.

"In politics, the lows are lower than the highs are high." This is true, and it's why those in government have to exhibit the highest levels of discretion, modesty, and insight. Government, misused, can lead to death and destruction. A healthy skepticism--but not cynicism--should be the watchword. Also, a high degree of realism is required. The recognition of constraints on choices of action and the reality and uncertainty of consequences is a hallmark of political wisdom. Ideologues (closely related to extremists) lose their suppleness of response and create expectations based on beliefs that lack the requisite humility to prove successful in changing circumstances.

"Truth before justice." Or I might say the converse, 'no justice without truth.' But of course, 'truth' doesn't come leaping into our arms like a long lost lover. It must be stalked. It is an elusive entity that often proves ephemeral and fleeting. The quest for truth is never completed, but if we can't at least report of its outlines--even as seen through a glass darkly--then we lose the means of finding our bearings. We have to learn to live in the twilight zone between despairing ignorance and unwarranted certainty.

"Beware the danger of a single identity." I would expand this to say that we should beware any mono-myth, any story that attributes a single cause or single identity to any person or phenomenon. Each of us is a complex, the product of innumerable streams of influence, and to adopt any identity or causal explanation to the exclusion of all others is folly. (These various tributaries also make us interesting--and often vexing--to ourselves as well as to others.)

"Partisanship is necessary but blinding." "Necessary"? I'm not sure, but certainly inevitable. Three ingredients guide all political decision-making: interests, passions, and reason. Our 'interests' are defined--in the simplest terms--by money. 'Whose ox gets gored?' as my medieval history prof used to put it. 'Passions' are characteristics such as seeking after fame or glory, power, control--Plato's thymos. The passions motivate all political actors in some measure. And 'reason.' I see reason as the crucial third that allows parties to mediate the differences that arise from the interests and the passions. In other words, 'reason' is not merely a matter of logic but a means of justifying and reconciling positions prompted by the passions and the interests. Thus, I doubt the existence of 'pure reason' in politics. (In this, I think that I'm going back as far as Hume--if not Aristotle--and as contemporary as the work of Dan Sperber and Hugo Mercier, authors of The Enigma of Reason.) Moderates seek for reason to prevail, although it can never vanquish the passions and interests. This is why, as Brooks notes, moderates are never comfortable members of a party (and are often distrusted by the believers). I find this entirely accurate. I was once a committed Republican, but I was too moderate. Now I've been a Democrat for a long time, but I always find myself a bit uncomfortable at meetings of Democrats because I can't help thinking that one tenant or another is a bunch of hooey that's a pretext for some interest, passion, or outdated ideology. It's always a struggle to balance the common interest (to the extent one exists, as it always does, but in varying degrees) with private ('party') interests. This is why politics is the art of the possible, the arena of compromise (to the extent it functions, unlike, for instance, the current Congress), and why legislation is often compared to sausage. It's also why political decisions are never entirely rational. (A counter-example, anyone?)

"Humility is the fundamental virtue." See all of the above, and as Brooks goes on to say, "Humility is a radical self-awareness from a position outside yourself — a form of radical honesty. The more the moderate grapples with reality the more she understands how much is beyond our understanding."

"Moderation requires courage." So true. Here it is over 50 years after my first (naive) self-identification as a 'moderate' that I feel like coming back to claim the term. But, fortunately, I've learned that popularity and acceptance are fleeting; sometimes you win, sometimes you lose; "the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong." And because moderates are by nature dissenters, internally and as well as externally, they do obtain a certain pariah status that requires some courage to maintain; it is not easy to cross currents.

And, finally, I agree with Brooks's peroration:
If you have elected a man who is not awed by the complexity of the world, but who filters the world to suit his own narcissism, then woe to you, because such a man is the opposite of the moderate voyager type. He will reap a whirlwind.


Instead of ideology, moderation is a way of coping with the complexity of the world.
NYTIMES.COM